The Orioles hopeful center fielder of the future may be just days away from arriving in Baltimore. The Baltimore Sun’s Eduardo Encina reported on Tuesday night that the O’s are expected to select the contract of outfield prospect Cedric Mullins before the end of the week. That would coincide with the O’s returning to Baltimore to begin a homestand.
Mullins was even scratched from Tuesday’s lineup in Norfolk, although The Virginian-Pilot’s David Hall reported that was due to Mullins being ill, not due to an imminent call-up. Hopefully he can rally back to good health by Friday.
This bit of news comes along with the added eyebrow-raising detail that longtime Orioles center fielder Adam Jones was taking fly balls in right field during batting practice prior to Tuesday’s loss against the Rays. For those fans, including me, who have hoped to see this happen since immediately after the trade deadline, it is a small but still exciting development for the Orioles.
One of the things that has made the 2018 season wearying beyond just all of the losses is the knowledge, particularly strong since Jonathan Schoop and Kevin Gausman were traded away, that few of the players we have been watching each night would be making an impact on the next good Orioles team. There have not been many people whose success would be exciting for the future of the franchise.
The addition of Mullins would immediately change that. The 23-year-old switch-hitting center fielder is the exact sort of player who, if he’s good enough, could quickly become a mainstay out there.
Mullins started the year out with Bowie, earning a promotion within two months with an .875 OPS, and has gone on to bat .267/.332/.425 in 59 games for Triple-A Norfolk. Outside of Norfolk’s Harbor Park, generally regarded as a pitcher’s park, Mullins has batted .276/.360/.455. That’s only 30 games, but hey, that’s pretty good.
Even better is that the speedy former 13th round draft pick could represent an immediate improvement for an Orioles defense that has been woeful at many positions all throughout the season. Jones, at -17 Defensive Runs Saved and a -10.5 Ultimate Zone Rating, is part of that problem.
The question about Mullins is not defense but whether he will be able to hit big league pitching enough to be a regular, rather than a fourth outfielder. Is he ready for that challenge?
By calling Mullins up with 48 or so O’s games remaining, the O’s can start to get an answer to that question in the early days of their rebuild. I don’t think he’s going to get any more ready with another month or two slumming in Norfolk.
The Orioles will have to add Mullins, who was drafted in 2015, to the 40-man roster this offseason anyway in order to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. If Mullins is the answer in center field, then the team can start to adjust the other outfield prospects who aren’t too far behind him.
The O’s might even have a better time evaluating their own pitchers if they inject some speed into center field behind them. Jones just can’t run down many balls any more. It’s not the only reason why the Orioles are 34-79, but it is a reason, and one that they can start to fix in the waning weeks of this disaster of a season.
Encina closes with this further tantalizing tidbit:
The addition of Mullins could mark the first of several position player call-ups over the final two months of the season as the Orioles attempt to evaluate the big league readiness of their high-level prospects.
One problem that the Orioles have, and one reason why they were essentially forced to trade Jonathan Schoop and Kevin Gausman in addition to the pending free agents Manny Machado and Zach Britton, is they don’t really have high-level prospects. Auditions for players like DJ Stewart might at least make the last stretch of the season more interesting. Hopefully, Mullins is just the beginning and the O’s can at least fail with new faces from here on.